They won their serve and we were quickly down 2-0. Jason sensed my mood and kept me positive by telling me how we would win his next service game. He positioned me more towards the inside of my box, much closer to the center line than I usually stand trying to cover the alley.
"You'll offer them the alley, which is one of the hardest shots in tennis, but you gain more chances to poach service returns," Jason said.
Throughout the set they each tried once to return a serve down the alley, not knowing this is one of my favorite shots to put away. The first one I volleyed deep into their court, unreachable. The other down-the-line service return went way long. They didn't try this one again.
Jason's serves were both well placed down the middle with a high bounce. I hit two nice volleys and Jason gave them two lobs they couldn't reach. Game over. It was 2-1.
Then we broke their serve by repeatedly taking some pace off and letting them struggle to get drop shots and angled volleys. I won my next service game by hitting the serves down the middle with heavy underspin, with Jason putting away the returns. Then we broke them again.
Interesting on Jason's next service game: Our opponents were able to get us down 15-40 when Jason explained more strategy to me. "As soon as my serve hits the opposite box, you move forward one step and raise your racquet," he said.
This little action frazzled our opponents again and again. We won this game and the next one. Set score: 6-2.
What did I learn from this set? A whole bunch of things many of you may already know, but here it goes:
1. Listen to the experienced player. There is a reason why he wins more matches than you.
2. Watch your opponents during warm-up, then develop a strategy. If that strategy works, stick to it.
3. If your opponents are hard hitters who can do baseline shots all day long, slow the game down, give them drop shots and make them run.
4. If your opponents love hard, cross-court returns of serve, serve them down the middle.
5. Recognize you and your partner's strengths and include them in your strategy
There is probably more to learn from this experience. I just know I walked away smiling. It was a good night. Yes, I admit we beat them with a ruthless strategy. But they were excellent players way above my level.
Did I mention it was a good night?